We’ve been a little neglectful of the blog lately as we focus on putting plants in the ground and getting our markets going. Sorry about that! We’ve got a few good blog posts marinating in our minds that we’re almost ready to post…but that’s not going to happen today because it’s sunny and we have about a million and a half onion seedlings that still haven’t been planted.

So for now, just some pictures of what’s been up at Sideroad Natural Farm since the last time we posted on here.

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I meant to post this on Sunday as a “week in review” blog post, but the day ended up consumed by a massive wild leek pickling turned leek pesto making mission. As the days get warmer the weeks are starting to blend together anyways, so we’ll use the idea of a “week” loosely. Going forward, you can expect less wordy blog posts, and more posts filled with pictures as we struggle to keep up with needs of the farm and form proper sentences (oh and don’t even expect us to grammar/spell check our posts during farm season…just putting that out there now for all you grammar police:). If you’re not a Facebooker, but still want to keep up with the farm on a more regular basis than our sporadic blog posts allow, you can view our Facebook page without having an account (www.facebook.com/sideroadnaturalfarm). Without further ado, here’s whats been up at the farm:

The week started off with a bang with some of the nicest darn weather we’ve seen yet. What a turn around from April eh?

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The piggies sure were happy about the sun and started spending copious amounts of time in their mud bath.

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The chickens were a little jealous and were like…”Hey! What gives. It’s sunny, let us out!” With time little chickens, with time….(They’ll get out in the next week or so once they’re a little older and we get our electric fencing set up).

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Our first task of the week was to tackle the hoophouse that has been sitting the farm’s driveway in pieces for the last month. We would have liked to have it set up sooner, but couldn’t bear to touch so much cold metal in sub zero temperatures. Step one was to transport all of the greenhouse parts out to the field. Holy dina! What a chore!

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The transport took a day….a whole day! Our progress wasn’t helped by getting the tractor seriously stuck in the still mucky fields.

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In between transporting the hoophouse and actually setting it up, we had a visit from one of our neighbours in Clarksburg who is skilled at finding water with a divining rod (in this case an apple branch). We all took a walk on the farm and tried our hand at finding ground water using, in addition to the branch, a saw, two coat hangers and a pocket watch. Both Pat and I could pick up on the water with the coat hangers, but couldn’t get the branch to work for us.

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Layla and Yarrow thought we were all crazy and pointed out where the water was using their own spidey sense.

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Buuuuut we all agreed that the pups’ creek would dry up once the spring melt ended, and Debbie ended up finding us two good sources of ground water, one at 20 ft, one at 30 ft, both potable. We were happy for the insight and were pretty amazed by her skills.
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We then moved on to setting up the hoophouse which involved setting up the anchor posts first (the most time consuming and physical part in our experience). After that we put the hoops together and set them on the anchor posts. Here I am with Yarrow, modelling the inaugural hoop.

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After a few sporadic periods of work, we managed to get the whole frame up this week. There are just a few more supports to add onto the structure to make it snow/wind proof, then the plastic on, and it will all be ready for our tomatoes, eggplants and peppers around the middle of the month.

Near the end of the week we worked on clearing parts of the field of Hawthorns (a terrible, prickly, scraggly tree) with the help of Pat’s dad Bob (thanks Bob!). We also mowed and got ready to start working the soil.

Before we got to working the soil, we took a nice walk in the forest with some of the 25th Sideroad neighbours and Mel. The forest is so beautiful right now and we were happy to learn some of the local flowers from our neighbours Bill and Elaine.

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The flowers sure were pretty, but the primary purpose of our walk was to harvest some of these bad boys (wild leeks).

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Yarrow was a great leek scout

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And the rest of the team brought their A-game as well.

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After leek harvest, I hurried home to start a massive wild leek pickling mission.

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However, after 6 hours of leek cleaning, and only 12 jars of pickled leeks, I decided to switch gears and turn their delicious garlicky leaves into pesto. The pesto making went much smoother and I am happy to report we’ll have many jars for sale at the upcoming Clarksburg and Collingwood Farmer’s Markets.

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While I made pesto, Pat started on something that we’re very very excited about…working the field!! We bought a little PTO driven plow to attach to our BCS rototiller which has allowed us to work up a half acre of land which we’ll start planting in tomorrow.

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The plowing sure is tough work though and it’s super slow going…we were happy to hear today that our farm neighbour is able to help us get the rest of the field plowed early next week! We are very appreciative of this as we know he is a very busy farmer, especially right now as he tries to get his planting done for the season.

And with that, one awesome, sunny, productive week comes to an end.

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– Amy

p.s. as I read back through the post I noticed a common theme…we have such awesome neighbours!!! Thanks everyone (including family) for being so supportive as we get this farm off the ground.

We’ve had to make a few calculated, larger purchases on our way to building up the farm this year. One of them got dropped off last night by our friendly salesman from Highland Supply in Dundalk. We haven’t tried it out on the soil yet, because it’s still too wet, but we’re so excited about it, I just had to write a blog post.

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Welcome fancy new machine! We promise to love you and change your oil regularly.

The BCS is not your standard rototiller. It has “Made in Italy” plastered all over it (speaking to my 1/4 Italian roots) and has a 12 hp diesel engine. It comes with all sorts of awesome implements that allow it to function much more like a tractor than a rototiller. Check out the rotary plow attachment which we’ll be using to use to make raised beds in our veggie fields.

Ooohhhh, love that soundtrack.

We likely could have found a small used ride-on tractor for the price that we paid for the BCS, but went with the walk behind for a few reasons:

-The lighter machine will cause less compaction on our soils (which is of increased importance in the heavy clay we’re farming in)
-The size of the machine makes it much more easy to manoeuvre in and out of densely planted veggie beds
-The attachments (of which there are many…) are affordable and are the right size for our operation

Hopefully this little machine will allow us to get on our soils earlier than June 1st (which is what we were quoted by the neighbouring farmer). Keep your fingers crossed for us that the weather warms up and the soil starts to dry out a little sooner.

K thanks for reading my nerdy equipment blogpost. You must be really keen (or my mom) to get through that 🙂

-Amy

Getting set up for our pigs to come took forever….or at least the good part of the last two weeks. But, with the hard work behind us and a new, mild manure smell lingering on our boots, we are elated with the new addition to our farm. This is a blog post about our path to becoming the delighted owners of three Tamworth piggies.

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Ginger, Charlotte and Bob (short for Roberta) cuddle up for the first time in their new home.

When we started talking about what we wanted to do with the farm sometime back in December, raising pigs was close to the top of our list. I have always been in love with them (along with almost all other animals)…and it seemed like a good fit for the land (which is rough pasture and partially treed). However, we didn’t have a clue where to start, and we didn’t think we’d get started on it this year as there was/is so much to do just to get the land ready for veggies (see Farm Goals 2013 for what we thought we’d get up to this season).

However, in typical Patrick and Amy fashion, we couldn’t wait to get going… and started searching for weaners (i.e. pigs that have been weaned from their mum’s milk and weigh 30 to 40 lbs) shortly after arriving in Ontario. We looked on the internet but couldn’t find any pigs close enough to us to pick up, and checked out the local livestock auction but only came across one scared little weaner that went for $4.

And then we found Norm’s listing for Tamworth gilts (a gilt is a female pig that hasn’t had babies). So I drove down to check them out – Norm’s pigs were a little larger than we had hoped for, but they seemed very healthy and happy (in my very amateur opinion) and they were close enough that he’d deliver them to the farm once we got set up.

After we settled on purchasing three, and told Norm that we’d be ready to take them in a few days (a gross underestimation of time) we got to work getting our pig palace set up. The photos probably sum the next two weeks of set up best, so I’ll let them speak for themselves.

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Step one was to build the pig’s shelter. This one is portable and will be moved around on pasture once the land has dried up a bit more.
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The pig shelter takes it’s maiden voyage!
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The next step was to erect a fence. This being our first experience with fence building, and having being told that pigs have a knack for getting out, we built it fortress strong.
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With the help of this rented auger – those posts are 4′ deep.
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Next came the gravity fed waterer (we don’t have running water hooked up yet, but will come early summer). The free water barrel from the dump was a huge score! You can also see the solar fencer we got to run our electric fence (we’re off the grid for now)…that thing can fence up to 30 km!
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Norm arrived with the pigs on Saturday….with snow on the ground! Blah (the snow that is). Here they’re being transported out to the pig palace.
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The three lovely ladies explore their new home. As if those aren’t the cutest little pig butts eh?
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The piggies are getting well fed with mash and our veggie scraps and are settling in to their new home. Once the pasture dries up a bit more, we’ll be sending them out to root and forage (something that Tamworths do well).
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Little Yarrow has found peace with her new funny friends. As long as she gets as many treats as they do.
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Quite the setting for the pig palace eh? They get one of the best views on the farm, and are sheltered from the winds, tucked in below the hill.
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How could you not love that face? What a beauty!

So, we didn’t find weaners, (although we think we’ll get a few in June), but we did get ourselves three pigs, that if all goes well, will be bred in the summer. Next I want to write a post about the Tamworth breed, because they are just so darn cool….but that’s all for now.

Oink Oink…Snort.

-Amy

When we decided to move Ontario to start a farm, we did so for the unique opportunity to ‘grow’ a farm on family land. You see, in BC we leased land and thus were hesitant to invest significant capital in buildings and other infrastructure due to a lack of certainty around our future on the land. I should also add that we were unable to keep livestock, which is something Amy and I were interesting in trying. At our new farm in Ontario, we can plan and grow our farm with some certainty that we will be farming on the land long term.

So, we have hit the ground running and have been building up a storm. With no more than the land to begin with (which in itself is a huge asset), we are building the farm from the ground up. So, here’s what we’ve been busy building.

First up was the growing set up in our heated garage at home. We wanted to get seeds going at the beginning of March and with nothing set up at the farm by way of a heated greenhouse, we opted for shelves with grow lights in the comforts of our little garage.

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“We’re gonna need a bigger boat” – George Jung (Blow)

With the number of seedlings growing quickly and no interest in spending more money on grow lights, we designed and built a hoophouse in our backyard with a handy hoop bender from Johnny’s Seeds. We opted for a 12 ft wide structure, which was relatively simple to construct.

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Truck bed, 2 x 4s and a sheet of plywood made for a handy bending platform.
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Bam!

We started to run low on materials but needed a vent, hence the patchwork window to save some pennies. Amy think it adds character, I try not to look at it.

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Happy plants!

Next up was the chicken brooder.  Having ordered 132 day-old baby chicks with little clue as to how to care for them, we had to hit the books (we really like the Storey’s guides to raising livestock) and the interwebs. We ultimately came up with a simple brooder design that will house the chicks for the first three weeks at which point they’ll be moved into their permanent home, the mobile chicken coop (currently in the concept phase). The chicks seem to be happy in their little brooder with ample space to test their roadrunner legs. However, they grow like weeds so the plan is to construct the mobile chicken coop next week.

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Farmer Amy with brooder

The most recent project was the mobile pig house, also known as the pig bunker. With three gilts (female pigs meant for breeding) on the way, we again referred to some farm books and the internet for how the keep the pigs on pasture. With decided on the design seen below which can be dragged or rolled (with the addition of wheels) from location to location. Amy wanted to paint it red, but we went with the desert storm camo colour as it was 75% off at the hardware store. The pig bunker will be situated within a fenced area where the pigs can roam freely. We’ll post some pics of the whole set-up when everything is in place.

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Pig bunker on runners. In theory this should work, we’ll keep you posted.

In and amongst all of the building we have purchased ourselves a nice walk-behind tractor which should come in the next two weeks. We are also deciding on a water sources and exploring options for power at the site (which is off-grid). Finally, we have purchased a 20 ft by 96 ft greenhouse which lies disassembled at the farm…it’s on the list.

So all in all, life is busy on the farm with much to do to get it off the ground. Yet I will say that days have seldom gone by so fast.

Happy Spring,

Patrick

We gained 100 and some odd new farm family members this week with the arrival of our day old chicks on Wednesday.

Little chickeys arrived in a box, segregated, a little stressed and chilly.

If you are a fan of us on Facebook you may have already guessed that we’re sort of obsessed with them. They’re so fluffy and they make the cutest little peeps.

Hey there little fluffball.

So cute actually that we don’t even mind that we’ve been cleaning their poopy butts all week. No joke…sometimes baby chicks get what’s called “pasting” which is where their poop gets stuck to their bums and can block everything up (potentially lethal if you don’t take care of it in a timely manner).

Farmer Pat gently cares for the poor little lady at our chick aid station.
Farmer Pat gently cares for this poor babe at our chick aid station.

All cuteness aside, they serve an important function on our farm. In a few weeks we’ll be moving them outside onto pasture where they will we rotated around our fields. They’ll be eating, scratching at the soil and pooping lots. Their manure will help to fertilize our future veggie growing areas. Anyone who has ever purchased organic compost to fertilize a large growing area ($$$bling) can appreciate why some livestock is such a valuable asset to the small, mixed farming operation.

Around late August they will start laying eggs, adding to our revenue stream and giving us product to sell year round.

Future egg layers right there.

We’ve also purchased three Tamworth pig gilts that will be delivered later next week. If all goes well, they will be our breeding stock for our small herd of pasture raised hogs. Similar to the chickens they’ll be working double time, rooting, digging and helping to revitalize pastures as well as pooping lots – giving us great material to add to our own compost pile.

Some Tamworths - I stoled this from Wikipedia.
Some Tamworths – I stole this pic from Wikipedia.

So, while rest assured that we will be posting many, many adorable photos of the animals that are soon to be on our farm, it’s not all about the cuteness (although that is certainly a bonus). For those of you who enjoy eating the aforementioned farm products, we’ll have eggs ready for purchase through our CSA program and from the farm gate in late summer, pork in the fall, and a small amount of chickens and thanksgiving turkeys this year.

On another note, Happy Easter! We hope you’re all having a great weekend with at least one delicious dinner.
-Amy